Bush Directive on Arctic Policy Stresses U.S. Sovereignty

01.14.09 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

Though many Americans might not realize it, “The United States is an Arctic nation,” President Bush declared this week, “with varied and compelling interests in that region.”

U.S. policy towards the Arctic region, which includes a portion of Alaska, was vigorously formulated in what is likely to be the Bush Administration’s last National Security Presidential Directive, NSPD-66 on Arctic Region Policy, dated January 9, 2009.

In the face of conflicting claims by the government of Canada, the directive asserts “lawful claims of United States sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction in the Arctic region.”

Noting that the U.S. and Canada “have an unresolved boundary in the Beaufort Sea” (which “may contain oil, natural gas, and other resources”), the President directed U.S. agency heads to “take all actions necessary to establish the outer limit of the continental shelf appertaining to the United States, in the Arctic and in other regions, to the fullest extent permitted under international law.”

In the Canadian press, the new directive was described as a “forceful rebuttal of Canada’s claims of sovereignty over the Northwest Passage.”  See “Bush takes final swing at Arctic sovereignty,” National Post, January 12.

President Bush called on the U.S. Senate to ratify the Law of the Sea Treaty, which is opposed by some Senate Republicans, because, he said, it offers “the most effective way to achieve international recognition and legal certainty for our extended continental shelf.”

Although many National Security Presidential Directives are classified, and the subject matter of some of them is still completely unknown to the public, NSPD-66 was issued as an unclassified, public document.  A listing of all publicly known NSPDs is here.  A Congressional Research Service report on “Presidential Directives: Background and Overview,” updated November 26, 2008, is here (pdf).